Ambassador: Bush Didn’t Know There Were Two Sects of Islam
Raw Story Christian Avard reports that a former ambassador has a new book out about the incompetence of the Bush administration which makes the claim that President Bush did not know, two months before the invasion of Iraq, that Muslims were divided into Sunni and Shia sects.
Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq, RAW STORY has learned. In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites. Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam–to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”
Juan Cole and hilzoy are taking the report at face value, with the latter “pray[ing] that we all learn something from this.” Bilmon thinks the whole thing shows the problem with parody, pointing to an April 2003 skit he wrote.
Gary Farber, meanwhile, notes that George Packer made similar claims in has March 2003 book and that there were several mentions of this in book reviews, including one in the March 2, 2003 NYT Magazine that was quoted the next day by Atrios, at the time the most prominent of the liberal bloggers. (Which, incidentally, preceded Bilmon’s skit.)
As to the veracity of the claim, Avard has found a White House document from December 2001 using the term Sunni but otherwise no evidence that Bush knew of the distinction. Googling around a bit, I haven’t been able to find any Bush speech from 2000-2002 in which he used the words “Sunni” or “Shiite,” although I could easily be missing some given the nature of search engines. Certainly, the 2000 campaign was almost completely devoid of foreign policy discussion, much less debate on terrorism. Post 9/11, obviously, there was plenty. Most of the big speeches, though, painted broad brush pictures of good versus evil.
While I don’t doubt the central thesis that Bush is not particularly intellectually curious, it’s almost inconceivable that anyone–let alone a man whose father was CIA Director, Vice President, and President–would not at least be aware of something so basic. The Sunni-Shia split has been on the public radar screen since the Iran Hostage Crisis, which kicked off November 4, 1979. I knew that there was such a thing as a Shiite when I was 14.
UPDATE: Commenter Dave E found two Bush speeches from the fall of 2002 where he used the terminology. Most significant was his UN Speech to rally support for action against Saddam, which contained this line: “If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi’a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions.”
Granting that someone else actually wrote the speeches and merely uttering the words doesn’t prove that Bush internalized the distinctions, it does at least prove he was aware of the existence of the two sects by the time Galbraith claims otherwise.